This 24,000 square mile section of the Upper Mississippi basin, comprising parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, was untouched by the glaciers which receded 12,000 years ago across the northern U.S. and Canada. As a result, the area's limestone ridges were not ground into boulders and gravel, which early geologists called glacial "drift". From these ridges flow hundreds of spring creeks whose water is clear, cold and rich in chemicals which can support a diverse aquatic food chain, including native brook and wild brown trout.
Historic land use practices since settlement of the region damaged these streams and the surrounding uplands. Millions of tons of sediment washed down onto valley floors and created a thick layer of soil which continues to actively erode today. As a result, fisheries managers were pessimistic as late as the 1950s that any trout streams would survive in the area.
But beginning in the 1930s, conservation practices such as contour plowing and reforestation slowed the upland erosion. In recent decades, watershed restoration techniques have been developed which control streambank sedimentation, buffer streams from harmful land use, and restore habitat for fish and other aquatic species.
TU's Driftless Area Restoration Effort (DARE) began in 2004 as an effort to expand watershed restoration funding, partnerships and impact across the four-state area. Volunteers suggested it as a national showcase and TU has supported it as the largest of our Home Rivers Initiatives across the nation. In 2005, career conservationist Jeff Hastings was hired at project manager, and he has worked with the DARE Volunteer Steering Committee to move the project forward.
Across the Driftless Area, a dozen TU chapters members are actively involved in restoration efforts, and in nearby areas at least eight other chapters, mostly in larger urban areas, have pitched in to support and lead projects located at a distance from their home turf. This approach has brought volunteers, money and organizing support from Chicago, Milwaukee, Central Wisconsin, and Minneapolis-St. Paul to projects in the area.
Strong partnerships have been built with federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state departments of natural resources, and county conservation departments. In addition, many projects involve local schools, colleges, and community and conservation groups which have never had an opportunity to see watershed restoration in action. TUDARE organizers believe the best projects are those with a broad range of partners and wide-spread multi-species impacts. To that end, TUDARE has developed manuals for best management practices for non-game species, cooperated with prairie restoration and other wildlife groups, and worked to develop long-range watershed organizations.
Through these efforts, restoration funding has increased by several million dollars a year and the capacity of the partnerships to carry out projects has been dramatically increased. Meanwhile, scientists studying the region and its waters have contributed significant knowledge to help measure and improve projects, and workshops have increased the skills of volunteers, agency technical staff and nonprofit conservation organizations to plan and carry out watershed work.
As a result, more miles of stream than ever before are being restored and made available to recreational anglers. Through the efforts of TU chapters and state agencies, more public fishing access easements have been added in the three largest states than were available before the project.
The economic impact of these efforts is over $1.1 billion a year across the region, according to an impact study done by Northstar Economics and released in 2008. Tourism and economic development agencies have taken note of these impacts and are striving to get out the message that these first-rate fishing opportunities can help local economies to thrive with green tourist dollars, and businesses are also taking note.
TUDARE is in the process of a five-year strategic planning effort to find ways to expand and improve its restoration efforts, help a wider range of partners get involved, and establish this unique region's identity as the area the glaciers missed—and where we can find miles and miles of first-class trout fishing opportunities along healthy streams in spectacular surroundings.
Feb. 2: Wisconsin State Council Annual Meeting and Banquet, Holiday Inn, Rothschild, WI (Wausau Area) (Wisconsintu.org)
Feb. 24: "Grass-fed Beef: Introduction to Genetics and Financials" free talk and lunch sponsored by Kickapoo Grazing Initiative, 8:30-1, Westby WI; For more information or to RSVP, contact Jessica Rizzolo by Feb. 15 (608-637-3615 or email@example.com ). (TUDARE is a partner in the Kickapoo Grazing Initiative.)
March 1-3: Hawkeye Fly fishers Fly Fishing Show, Isle of Capri Hotel, Bettendorf, IA (www.qchffa2013.com ). Duke will be keynote speaker at March 2 banquet.
March 22-24: Great Waters Fly Expo, National sports Center, Blaine MN (www.greatwatersflyfishingexpo.com )
March 26-27: DRIFTLESS SYMPOSIUM, LaCrosse Convention Center/Radisson Hotel (Contact Jeff Hastings for more information; firstname.lastname@example.org ; 608-606-4158)
April 19-21: Trout Unlimited Midwest Regional Meeting: Sheraton Inn, Madison, WI (www.wisconsintu.org )
June 15: Coon Valley Trout Fest, Coon Valley, WI (www.cooncreektroutfest.com )
June 19-20: Women's On the Water Skills Clinic, June 21-23: By Women For Women Beginning Fly-Fishing Skills Clinic, West Fork Sports Club, Avalanche, WI; (www.swtu.org/calendar )
September 25-29: Trout Unlimited National Meeting, Marriott Hotel, Middleton, WI (www.tu.org )